September 2014- Come at me bro!


I’ve seen my fair share of graduation ceremonies in school over the past few years.  You’d think they wouldn’t get to you anymore; that they’re formulaic to a large extent and that you’ll have to feign the required emotion when that time of year comes around again the following year…but nine times out of ten, the occasion gets to me. 

The ceremony will usually begin innocuously enough with a few speeches.  A number of anecdotes are trotted out; there might be a few good-natured digs, some slagging, an inspirational quote or two and a measure of advice for the little birdies about to fly the coop.  At this stage a single tear might escape but in my experience it’s when the student representative starts choking on her words with emotion that the thing really starts to get out of hand.  Not long after this about a hundred young women are blubbering in their seats, attempting in vain to stem the tide of hot, snotty tears leaking out everywhere, ruining their “smoky-eye-look”.  Control is well and truly ceded to the stars of the show now and there’s a whiff of anarchy on the air.  They’ve taken over the stage as the teachers and dignitaries cautiously retreat.  They’re swinging out of each other, wild with emotion and the tears are flowing freely now.  That fantastically cheesy Vitamin C Graduation Song (Friends Forever) is blaring out of cd player somewhere in the cavernous assembly hall as the graduates caterwall in unison, clutching each other for support and grimacing through the tears.  It’s the end of their lives as they know it and they behave accordingly.

And we shouldn’t forget that for every student that graduates there are numerous stakeholders too- proud teachers, management, cheer-leading relatives, the community- who may be just as invested in the process.  Graduation is a momentous occasion in the life of any person and a cause for much celebration and congratulations for the whole society! 

From a teacher’s perspective, graduations also have a handy knack for helping you to forget and forgive much of what precedes them.  We look back together as one, with rose-tinted glasses.  No longer us and them, staff versus student.  The ceremony itself goes a long way to healing our perceived grievances against each other; after all, we were all working towards the same thing all along but somewhere that fact got lost along the way.  Photographs are taken, tense, awkward conversations are had, where both student and teacher regard each other, as if for the first time as…people!  Disagreements, misunderstandings, strikes, unpleasant encounters, mediocrity, personal slights, failures, small fires started in classrooms- all the ill will is blurred away.  This is revisionism of the highest order.  And for teachers I may suggest that such end of year celebrations are the only way going back to work again for the next onslaught is at all possible.  Tricked again!

It is in this spirit of revisionism and in the aftermath of a fairly successful graduation ceremony of my own that enables me to almost forget and/or forgive many of the fiascos that have befallen me at work this year and contemplate the upcoming semester and the last six months of my placement with a little renewed energy.

At times during the past 18 months, I have despaired of what I am doing here.  There have been many moments of quiet despair, the type of despair which comes creeping in some evening when you are sitting alone and satisfied at having done your meager best that day, you smile to yourself at first contentedly as you must be, and then smile but less brightly as you acknowledge how very meager indeed your best was, and then the smile disappears altogether when you admit how insignificant your impact may be, how diluted you have become in your efforts, how pathetic the fruits of your labour seem.  You worry about the sustainability of the work, the resistance from certain quarters, the one-step-forward,-two-steps- back nature of change…

…and then what happens is you have a graduation ceremony and you get a bit sentimental about the whole thing 😛 Damn graduation!  Also as this time next year I should be sitting pretty at home in Ireland, these are the first and last teachers I will ever see graduate from the teacher training programme I am working on and there was a small element of emotion for me as a result of that too.

Ours was a simple affair (complete with obligatory coffee ceremony you understand) but it was a lovely evening.  Curiously, I was the one chosen to read out the names of the graduating teachers, my new counterpart claiming my Amharic was better than his!!! Lies! But a nice gesture.  

And when all was said and done, reflecting with my fellow volunteers and staff I thought, what an achievement for us all to have succeeded in even some small way through the many obstacles!  What a sense of togetherness and comradery there was that evening, no us and them, only us!  What dedication to improvement and professionalism was shown by those teachers who graduated!  Because they didn’t just merely graduate, what they have done is quality work

Three facts about the Higher Diploma Programme in Woldia University

  1. 85 teachers successfully graduated since 2013
  2. The teachers’ portfolio of work was voted best in the country by our peers at the last two Annual National Moderation Workshops in Addis Ababa
  3. According to a source in the Ethiopian Ministry of Education, “good practice was identified at Woldiya University last year because not all candidates automatically achieved graduate status” (!)




And above all what a privilege, an honour and a pleasure for me to have been given the chance to work so closely with the next generation of Ethiopian teachers and to have been trusted to do so.Thanks VSO Ireland for affording me this opportunity and everyone supporting me at home and abroad 🙂


September 2014- come at me bro! (February 2015, also “come at me bro”…just six months to go!)


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